I used to love the game Monopoly. My brother, friends and I used to play it over the summer and the same game would last for weeks. For those who don’t really understand Monopoly, maybe because you’ve been warned away from haters, it essentially involves you moving your token around the board, buying up properties in hopes to build them up. When another player lands on your property, they have to pay you various amounts, depending on how much you’ve built up your property. We would drag out the game so long all in our hopes that we could build up our little empires and watch our competitors fall into our trap. The game would get so built up that eventually, it became so stressful to even roll the dice. There were occasions where a player was sent to jail, which really just meant you stopped playing the game and moved to a place on the board. You didn’t get to buy up properties (con), but you also didn’t land on another players property (pro).
As I’ve continued substitute teaching and youth pastoring, I’ve gotten to study teenagers and it seems like a lot of times, this is how life works. At first, the “game” of life is fun; zipping around the board, collecting new things, and losing very little. But eventually, life’s pain gets to you and going through it starts to get stressful. It is even favorable to go to “jail” where you can’t really chase dreams, pursue goals and really live, but at least you are “safe” in a manner of speaking. I’ve seen teens and adults shut themselves down. They stop hoping, stop dreaming, and stop pursuing the goal. Instead, it is a waiting game; watch others fail and take pleasure that it wasn’t you.
While the Christian resists taking pleasure in the failure of others, I think there is some sort of perversion that can happen in our mission for life. We know that we don’t want to fail. We figure out, somewhere along the line that if we play it safe, the chances of failing are far less; ergo, if we play it as safe as we can (put ourselves in jail, as it were) we don’t ever fail. With relish the fact that we don’t do drugs, don’t commit crimes, our families are holding together and we go to church. But the absence of failure isn’t what Jesus called us to.
I think of the parable Jesus gave in Matthew 25 about the three servants who were each given a certain amount of money to invest while the master was away. The first two servants did well with their investments but the third, didn’t even try. Well, I should say, all he tried to do was not fail. He gives the master back exactly what was given to him and says, “‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.(Matthew 25:24-25).” The master was furious at this act of cowardice and throws the man into the outer darkness, ironically, the sort of thing the man was fearing and doing his best to avoid. The other two, presumably, had their eyes on growth and figuring out how to please the master.
I’m realizing at times that some of my actions are more motivated by fear than by love for my master. It may be hard to spot, but I think when we find ourselves settling and not even trying, we are being driven by fear; fear of failure, of disappointing others, looking stupid, losing money, etc. But we must remember that our God is not as the fearful servant described: “...a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed….” He is a good Father who is slow to anger and abounding in love. So, I want to be the type of “player” who dreams, who reaches and who seeks to please the father, not by sitting in jail, but by living the abundant life.